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i only tell the truth

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The first time Maya coughed up a flower petal, she was in the midst of a dress rehearsal with Claudine for their next theatrical play, Starlight.

 

When Claudine stepped onto stage donning the toga that the costume department had designed, Maya felt a tickle at the back of her throat - a scratchy sensation that refused to go away. She tried to dismiss the uncomfortable feeling by clearing her throat, not wanting to get out of character and embarrass herself in front of the entire theatre crew. Now was not the time to screw up and waste everyone’s time. Now was the time to put her game face on.

 

If you have to leave, ” Maya bellowed to the audience. “At least tell me why.

 

It was at that moment Claudine decided to make eye contact which caused Maya to feel a sudden, inexplicable knot in the pit of her stomach. She could feel her lungs swelling up and her chest tightening with each passing second. It was almost hilarious to Maya. She had practised the same exact script, acted out the same exact scenes and sung the same exact songs with Claudine hundreds of times but now, a week before their 99th Starlight Revue performance, was the perfect time to blunder it all up.

 

Maya told herself it was merely stage fright; this was her first time rehearsing on stage in a long while after all.

 

It was also her first time experiencing stage fright so that was rather peculiar on her part.

 

Her ears began to drown out the whispers of the audience, the reverberating fan noise from the air-conditioners and Claudine’s silvery delivery of her lines. The only thing Maya could hear was the irregular thumping of her pulse. She reassured herself that she was going to be okay, that she was suffering from performance anxiety. No biggie.

 

Or so she thought until Claudine turned to look back at her again.

 

Maya could not hold in the growing uncomfortable itch in her throat anymore and she coughed. And coughed. And coughed.

 

Her body convulsed terribly as she clasped her hands in front of her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she muttered in between breaths. “Please give me a moment.”

 

Worried murmurs of whether Maya was feeling unwell rose amongst the audience rows. The doubts that the students have about whether she’d be able to perform for Starlight Revue irked her greatly. She was Tendou Maya, nothing but perfection was expected of her, and she’d always deliver just that.

 

Maya looked up and was about to announce that she was ready to proceed with the rehearsal until she saw a lone grey petal on the palm of her hand. She froze in place, dumbfounded at what she was staring at.

 

No. There was no way.

 

She clenched her fists around the petal tightly.

 

“Maya?” a voice called out softly, snapping Maya out of her thoughts (or lack thereof). It took her a moment before she noticed everyone in the theatre staring back at her with looks of worry and confusion. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out, the words disappearing into thin air before they could reach the tip of her tongue.

 

“Did you forget your line?” Claudine whispered as she reached out to grab Maya’s hand. An instantaneous jolt shot up Maya’s arm and she instinctively pulled her hand away from Claudine’s.

 

A gasp echoed amongst the audience.

 

A surge of emotions arose in her.

 

Adrenaline dictated that she did something.

 

She ran.

 

--

 

Getting to class had become an increasingly difficult struggle ever since the incident. Gossip and rumours about the girls had spread around the campus; various lies sprouted about them having a lovers’ tiff or a cold war between couples. Maya had wanted nothing to do with the baseless tittle-tattles and most of all, she had wanted nothing to do with Claudine, even if it meant skipping classes and only attending the ones where she wasn’t in.

 

An unbecoming behaviour of a top star, truly, but the sight of Claudine sent shivers down her spine, constricted her lungs and tightened her throat. Heck, even the thought of Claudine threw her into a coughing fit, sometimes she’d vomit too. Like right now, head over the toilet, an obnoxious amount of grey flower petals spilling out of her painfully.

 

The prickly thorns in her throat made her retch. Her eyes, red and swollen, were filled with tears from all the puking. Maya hated to admit it but she was a big mess. How could something so beautiful be formed in such a grotesque manner?

 

“Maya, is that you?” a voice spoke, accompanied by a soft rap at her cubicle door. A voice she never thought she’d hear so soon. A voice she’d been dreading to hear since forever ago.

 

Maya stood up and flushed the petals down. She turned towards the door and hesitated. Her hand atop the lock made no movement. She didn’t want to talk to anyone about this, especially not Claudine - the entire reason why she became a walking flower dispenser.

 

A cough.

 

A few petals slipped into her hands.

 

A moment had passed before Claudine called out again, “Open up, Maya. I know you’re inside.”

 

“I’m not Maya,” Maya replied with a weak effort in disguising her voice. She cringed inwardly.

 

She could hear Claudine scoff. “Tendou Maya, has your acting deteriorated so quickly without me as your partner? I guess someone’s not as perfect as she seems after all.”

 

Maya hated it when people described her as perfect because she was anything but. As the lovechild of two of the best performers in Japan, Maya has been dubbed as thoroughbred, the ideal DNA mix, the girl with natural talent. It annoyed her to no end. To hear Claudine describe her the same way others did was disappointing.

 

“Maya.”

 

A pang in her heart. A skip of a beat. The start of another round of erratic coughing.

 

Claudine’s voice became uncharacteristically soft. It reminded Maya of the wind chimes that tinkled in the breeze back at home.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

Another cough.

 

A flurry of stupid grey petals.

 

God, Claudine was being so unfair to her. Was she trying to kill Maya or something?

 

She took a deep breath. The restroom had started to smell a little like lavender. Those damn flowers.

 

“I found my weakness,” Maya simply stated, voice void of emotions. When there was no response coming from the other side of the cubicle, Maya continued, “Ever since I was a child, I was taught by my parents and world-renowned theatre teachers how to act - I was essentially taught how to put on masks and hide my emotions.”

 

She released the lock of the cubicle and walked out to approach Claudine head on. If Maya was going to dig a hole and bury herself in today, she was going to do it with pride. She fidgeted with her fingers, unsure of the things she should be saying or doing. Performing a routine in front of prestigious guests and critics was way easier than this mushy emotions thingamajig.

 

“I’ve practised and adopted many different character roles that were given to me. Many started to see me as a persona, as the prodigal stage girl, a Tendou prodigy, but it was never just Maya.”

 

There were thorns bubbling in her throat, unrelentlessly twisting and coiling. It was now or never.

 

“Meeting you changed everything. You challenged this whole image of me, pushing me to go further and higher. Though we have bickered countless of times the past year, you’ve grown to become someone whom I’ve come to acknowledge as my rival.”

 

“Maya, you’re…” Claudine hesitated, watching the petals slipped out of Maya’s mouth as she spoke.

 

“You’ve also become a huge and important part of me. You’ve become my weakness - years of training to keep my emotions at bay have gone to waste because of you,” Maya continued. “I can’t stop myself from feeling something when I look at you. You’re special.”

 

“You may view yourself as second best but Claudine, you are magical. When you’re on stage, you command attention easily with your beauty and charisma. It’s upsetting that you do not see your own shine because all you see is mine. If you could see yourself in my eyes, you’d know this.” Maya bit her lip. “Vous êtes parfaits.”

 

Seconds of silence passed as Claudine floundered for an answer, her mouth gaped open, her cheeks flushed red. Maya looked down to the floor where her petals laid - it was time to face the music.

 

“You’re such an idiot, Tendou Maya,” Claudine jabbed in the same annoyed tone she usually harboured. She lifted Maya’s chin with a hand and held her gaze. She reached into her pocket and pulled out what seemed to be a flower petal. This was not the same flower petal that Maya had been spewing out. It was different in its shape and colour.

 

The itching at the back of her throat had stopped. She wondered if it did for Claudine too.

 

Maya chuckled and closed the gap between the two. “Je t'aime de tout mon coeur.”

 

“When did you even learn French?” Claudine breathed out as she leaned her forehead against Maya’s.

 

“I’ll tell if you tell me when you started holding a torch for me.”

 

Tais-toi et embrasse-moi.”

 

And she did.